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Digital for a New Age cable net

Oxygen's quest for convergence is clear in the design of the on-air backdrop used for live shows filmed in the cable network's 64,000-square-foot Chelsea Market complex in Manhattan.

The backdrop is a high-ceilinged, loft-like working office space with broadcast service panels strategically located throughout. So in the middle of a two-hour live Pure Oxygen sequence, for instance, a camera operator can unplug from one BSP, run to the other side of the building and quickly patch in again.

This setup can get hairy with office workers scurrying by, balancing coffee on top of piles of photocopies. But that's the desired effect. "The 'workplace as set' was really one of the principal design goals we were going for," says David Higgins of The Systems Group, project manager for the installation.

Oxygen's digital facility, in its original iteration, was to end up looking more like "a DV-oriented desktop production facility" rather than a live studio production facility, according to Tom Burns, Oxygen's vice president of broadband technology. But as the network's ambitions ramped up to include four hours of network-level live TV a day, the equipment became more varied.

The plant has a main core of 601 routing, but also a Fibre Channel storage-area network, a high-bandwidth internal LAN, WAN connections "out the wazoo" and three in-house CATV channels inserted into the Time Warner CATV feed, says Burns.

"It's the overlay of all the networks-some of which are designed for video, some of which are designed for video as data, and some of which are designed for pure IP data-that's where the convergence really hits home," he adds.

Tying these networks together is complex and has not been fully worked out yet, Burns acknowledges. But already, the Web technology and production groups can pull video off the CATV feed, edit it, compress it and embed video clips in Web pages. In the future, Oxygen will have low-resolution browsing delivered via 100 Base-T Ethernet to all desktops-not just the ones hooked up by Fibre Channel.

The facility has a Sony 128 SDI router with stereo audio, a DVS-7200 production switcher and a DME-7000 CORE 2 DVE for digital video effects. Also in place are two Ultimatte 9 chroma keyers, a Sony BE 9100 editor and a Mackie SR 40-8 mixing console. There are five Sony BVP-500 cameras and nine BVP-570's using a Sony MSU 700 Master control setup system and Sony RCP-720 remote control joysticks.

Oxygen uses Pinnacle FXDeko character generator and Pinnacle Lightning as the still store system. The primary tape format for the facility is Digibeta, while fieldwork is done with a mixture of MiniDV, DVCam and Sony Beta SP. The audio control room uses a Wheatstone SP 8 32x4x2 mixing console.

Editing gear for three of the four TV shows produced in-house is Apple Computer Inc.'s FinalCut Pro software running on G4 Macs with 512MB RAM and 200GB local storage, Fibre Channel interface cards, SANergy SAN OS software and Aurora Designs Igniter cards.

"Each show has a Web component as well as a TV component. And FinalCut has the best flexibility in combining low- and high-band versions of the same clip," Burns says. "Quite frankly, it was very inexpensive." The animation department uses a Media100, a real-time non-linear editor. Oxygen's teenage-girl show, Trackers, uses an Avid MediaComposer.

What's more, FinalCut Pro can be easily networked on the Fibre Channel network with Oxygen's Drastic VVW 3000 and VVW 3500 digital video servers that gets played back into the shows, according to Andrea Cummis, vice president of engineering.

The one thing the Drastic does that no one else we know does, says Cummis, is translate Avid files, Media100 files, or FinalCut files in real time and play it back in an SDI system without the need for time-consuming re-rendering.

While the Drastic has some internal storage, it's hooked up to an EMC Clarion disk array. Editors can finish a piece and save out a segment, and the control room can play it to air immediately.

A portion of the day's schedule is streamed by Real Broadcast Networks, and there are plans to direct text from the rundown software (AP's ENPS) into the vertical blanking interval.

Oxygen's setup favors open networking of "a bunch of jumped-up PCs" rather than dedicated, black-box computer equipment. "By going with more-open systems, the learning curve has been a little harder," Burns says. "But long term, the flexibility is there to change our minds weekly, if we can stand it."